Looking to integrate math, science, and engineering in your classroom? Start with the science and math practices!
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is more than just a grouping of subject areas. It is a movement to develop a deep understanding of these content areas, so students are more competitive in the 21st-century workforce. STEM helps develop a set of thinking, reasoning, researching, collaborating, and creating skills that students can use in all areas of their lives. STEM isn’t a standalone class—it’s a way to intentionally incorporate different subjects across an existing curriculum.
But if you are new to using STEM in your classroom, or if you are a secondary math or science teacher and have never integrated the subjects before, where do you start? In my opinion, the best and easiest place to start is with the practices. Regardless of whether your curriculum is aligned with the Common Core Math Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, or neither, the practices are important processes and proficiencies that all students should be engaged in while learning and applying the content. Several of these math and science practices naturally overlap.
What is a Science or Math Practice?
A mathematic or scientific practice is a behavior that mathematicians or scientists use to seek and explain answers to questions they have about the world around them. By focusing on these behaviors, you are enabling students to relate mathematic and scientific ideas to real-world situations and apply them in everyday life.
Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
Developing and using models
Planning and carrying out investigations
Analyzing and interpreting data
Using mathematics and computational thinking
Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
Engaging in argument from evidence
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
What are the commonalities between Math and Science?
Let’s start with Science Practice #5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking.
This practice encourages students to use mathematics and computational thinking to clarify and build relationships and models among the various representations found in mathematics, science, and engineering. Math and science are partners in critical thinking. As students observe and collect data, it is imperative for them to learn the computation and mathematical principles associated with gathering their information to understand scientific concepts. This can be through observations, measurement, recording, and the processing of data. This logically brings us to Science Practice 4, which includes a heavy math content focus.
Science Practice #4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data
Once collected, data must be presented in a form that can reveal any patterns and relationships which allows results to be communicated to others. By collecting and analyzing data, scientists are able to make meaning of the information they have collected. For elementary children, this can connect to the math standards of tallying results, and constructing charts, pictographs, and bar graphs. By middle and high school students are now relating the data to a line graph, creating an equation of a linear function, or for bivariate data, a scatter plot with the line of best fit. Learning to analyze and interpret data will enable students to recognize patterns and make decisions based on these findings.
Overlapping Practices: Science Practice #2: Developing and Using Models & Math Practice #4: Model with Mathematics
Both of these practices involve using models to problem-solve real-world situations in math and science. Many of those models are similar, making it easier to integrate STEM into their lessons. Models are a tool for thinking and making predictions that allow students to apply the content to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace. Models such as diagrams, drawings, tables, graphs, flowcharts, and formulas help students to test hypotheses and possible solutions to complicated problems.
Overlapping Practices: Science Practice # 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence & Math Practice #3: Reason Abstractly and Quantitatively
Asking students at any age to explain their understanding allows them to engage in critical thinking and encourages the development of collaboration. Through the use of these practices, students will compare alternatives, formulate evidence based on test data, make arguments from evidence to defend their conclusions, evaluate others’ ideas critically, and revise their designs in order to achieve the best solution to the problem at hand. Students will learn to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a line of reasoning and seek out the best explanation for a natural phenomenon. Students will explain and defend their position based on the results of an experiment and the data collected. They justify their conclusions, communicate them to others, and respond to the questions or arguments of their peers. Through these practices, a common science and math language can be developed by integrating appropriate content vocabulary.
Regardless of the entry point, the very nature of STEM is engagement. When the focus is on the design, application, and integration of various pieces—which frequently involve a dose of hands-on maker project-based learning—learners' natural curiosity is ignited.
For more detailed information on the science and math practices, see these websites: